Rachel Nichols Removed from NBA Finals Sideline Role After Comments on Maria Taylor

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 6, 2021

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 13: ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols reports on a preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the LA Clippers on December 13, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

ESPN announced Rachel Nichols has been removed as a sideline reporter for the 2021 NBA Finals after the New York Times detailed a mistakenly recorded video in which Nichols discussed frustrations about Maria Taylor hosting pregame coverage for last year's Finals, a role Nichols expected to fill. 

"We believe this is [the] best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals. Rachel will continue to host The Jump," ESPN said in a statement Tuesday, per Andrew Marchand of the New York Post.

Malika Andrews will replace Nichols on the sideline for the series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, which begins Tuesday night.

Nichols' frustrations were mostly aimed at ESPN during the July 2020 call, which she said had a "crappy longtime record on diversity," during a conversation with Adam Mendelsohn, an advisor to the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James. Nichols suggested the Finals hosting role was contractually hers.

"I just want them to go somewhere else—it's in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing," she said after saying the network was "feeling pressure" about racial diversity.

The video showcasing the call, which was mistakenly recorded while Nichols was working remotely in the NBA's Orlando bubble to complete the 2019-20 season, was captured on a cell phone by somebody at ESPN and was then quickly shared throughout the company. According to the Times, it sparked "fury" at the network.

Nichols, who is white, explained she didn't have a problem with moving Taylor, who is Black, into a more prominent role, but she didn't want it to happen at her expense.

"I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world—she covers football, she covers basketball," she said. "If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity—which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it—like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away."

Taylor, who declined comment to the Times about the story, wrote an email to ESPN executives expressing concern her complaint was overlooked.

"I will not call myself a victim, but I certainly have felt victimized and I do not feel as though my complaints have been taken seriously," she wrote. "In fact, the first time I have heard from HR after two incidents of racial insensitivity was to ask if I leaked Rachel's tape to the media. I would never do that. ... Simply being a front facing black woman at this company has taken its toll physically and mentally."

The situation maintained a lingering effect throughout the 2020-21 season, with some members of the network's NBA coverage calling it an "active source of pain."

Instances where Nichols appeared on NBA Countdown, a show hosted by Taylor, were prerecorded to avoid interactions, and there were tensions between members of the NBA team, including Jalen Rose, Adrian Wojnarowski and Jay Williams, and network executives about how the situation was handled that caused ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro to become involved, according to Times sources. Wojnarowski, one of the network's most prominent NBA figures, called Nichols a "bad teammate."

Nichols was not punished for her remarks, a decision that came after "company executives expressed fears of a lawsuit from Nichols" given how the video was obtained and led to ESPN's parent company, Disney, getting involved in the discussions, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Nichols issued an apology to open Monday's edition of The Jump:

The Jump on ESPN @NBATheJump

<a href="https://t.co/IqAtaRatNH">pic.twitter.com/IqAtaRatNH</a>

She's hosted the weekday show since 2016 along with her other work on ESPN's NBA coverage.

Taylor has hosted NBA Countdown since 2019 along with work on the company's college football, college basketball and volleyball coverage.